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ZFP Quartet - Music for Strings, Percussion & Electronics

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Artist: ZFP Quartet

Album: Music for Strings, Percussion & Electronics

Label: Bruce's Fingers

Review date: Nov. 14, 2005

British contrabassist and composer Simon H. Fell is always involved in a huge number of projects. While each one of them bears the trace of his first love – boomin’, no holds barred free improv – Fell is one of those most interesting players who, like Anthony Braxton, seems omnivorous in his musical desires and always capable of delivering on them.

Drawing from a very wide range of idiomatic sources, Fell’s ZFP Quartet (Fell on bass, Carlos Zingaro on violin and electronics, Marcio Mattos on cello and electronics, and Mark Sanders on drums and percussion) deliver a fascinating fusion on Music for Strings, Percussion & Electronics. Both Zingaro and Fell have long paired up in duos with Mattos. On a November 2002 festival date in Portugal), they decided to join forces with Sanders in this exciting set.

The title is an obvious nod to Bartok, and it’s hard not to sense that Zingaro, Mattos, and Fell are channeling some of the great composer’s late string quartets (though not necessarily the large ensemble piece that inspired the title). Certainly this music, a compelling blend of improvisation with slivers of referential material (which are naggingly familiar but not through-composed), is dense enough right from the start to earn that comparison. But it’s got more than enough bracing, detailed sections to earn its own identity. You get a lot of the subtle technical nuance of Fell’s chamber-improv trio IST, whose fascination with spectral overtones is present here (and may constitute a link to the fascinating work of Gerard Grisey). But you also get a muscular free improv element (much of it courtesy of Sanders’ always fascinating, post-Lovens drumming).

There are plenty of moments when slashing and sawing seem to be the order of the day, when – like the excellent Quatuor Accorde strings improv group from London – intensity and detail combine to overwhelm the senses. Yet they contrast nicely with instants where gentle pizzicato, hypnotically vibrating arco, and delicate percussion create a compelling tranquility. There are naturally many passages for solos, duos, and trios in addition to the full quartet (particularly compelling is a thudding duo for Fell and Sanders at the mid-point of this 50 minute piece). And there is a rapturous passage for electronically modified strings later in the piece. But it’s really the eldritch group language that compels, from the explosive beginning to its slow, groaning conclusion. A fine disc, well worth seeking out.

By Jason Bivins

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